Just to get it out there, here’s a couple of thoughts from the representative weekend:
- It’s shit watching both Queensland teams be terrible. I have enough terrible teams in my life (thanks Broncos and Souths Logan), I don’t need my rep teams joining the list without some upside of the game overall. For example, Australia losing to Tonga would be a pretty big deal and worth taking an L for. Queensland losing does nothing for the game but perhaps someone should consider taking a women’s game, you know in the two team series, north of the border, possibly even all the way to Townsville’s new stadium?
- Speaking of favoured teams and the greater cause of rugby league, the London Broncos are looking pretty sharp and might just pull themselves out of the relegation zone. There’s even an extremely unlikely scenario where they might pull themselves into finals contention, being only four points off fifth-placed Salford. Despite having 50 put on them by Hull, Catalans should hold on to a top five slot, mostly due to the pushing and shoving in the group behind. Leeds need to be concerned but are lucky Hull KR are there. They just need to not be last.
- Wolfpack keeps Wolfpacking, which is nice. Toulouse keep Toulousing, which is OK if it’s against Toronto.
- International footy is a Thing and it has potential. Shout out to the Kiwi Ferns game, which was a blowout but still entertaining enough with plenty of big hits. Second shout out to the PNG Kumuls, who put up a sterling defence of the quality of the Queensland Cup, playing against a NRL 1-17 in Samoa. I had some thoughts on Twitter, starting here:
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Sometimes I take reader requests, although sometimes I can’t always meet the brief.
And sometimes I read or hear someone ask a question and think, “hey, that’s an interesting idea. I’ll take a look.” A while back on Inside Sport’s Dead In Goal podcast, Jeff Centenera asked how much Origin affects team form. We normally associate heavy Origin loading as corresponding with poor performance of the club team, devoid as it is of its star power and typically relying on inexperienced youngsters to fill the gaps. Being a Broncos fan, I am as familiar with this phenomenon as it is possible to be without actually playing the game.
But I thought that was a question worth working through.
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I can finally put a woefully inadequate season of tipping behind me. For a guy that had an Elo rating system that could practically see the future last year (up around 67%), Euclid did let us all down really badly this year.
But how good has the football been? This weekend sees the fairy tale-esque giant-slaying North Queensland Cowboys take on the machine-like Terminators of the Melbourne Storm to decide which side gets to take home the 2017 premiership.
Melbourne (20-4) vs North Queensland (13-11)
The Cowboys have ridden an improbably large share of possession to starve their opponents of the ball coupled with an improbably well-timed run in form, particularly for star players like Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo, to get through to what the media insists on referring to as the “Big Dance”. Why? Who knows? Wendell Sailor hasn’t done his jig on a football field in over a decade and there hasn’t been much in the way of successors.
We’re down to the final four. There’s the impossibly good expansion team from Melbourne, the pretty good expansion team from Brisbane, the grit-sucking, giant-slaying fairy tale machine from regional Queensland and there’s the 109 year old club of gronks that no one in their city wants to support.
The NRL could not have set it up better with the four major TV markets represented. I’m assuming that the twenty or so in Melbourne that will watch this weekend would have out-numbered the theoretical audience in Auckland should the Warriors ever get their act together.
In the meantime, and with my tipping record now falling behind people who haven’t bothered to tip since July, here’s my preliminary final tips.
Brisbane (16-8) @ Melbourne (20-4)
I think everyone in Brisbane wanted to avoid this scenario but here we are. In fact, had the Broncos done a better job in their qualifying final, they wouldn’t be here and would instead be facing a Cowboys outfit that, while good, is not once-in-a-generation good. The good news is that Oates and Boyd are back and Brisbane are as close to full strength as they’re going to get in a year where just about every player has had some time off. If only Adam Blair would pull a hamstring, we could get him on a plane to New Zealand by half time and he’d stop being a deadweight. That is unless he scores the winning try in which case I never doubted him but that’s about as likely as Brisbane being in the position to score a winning try. I guess what I’m saying is, anything’s possible.
Here’s some fun facts: Melbourne have won 64% of their games since their founding in 1998. They’ve led the NRL all-time winning percentage since 2007. The previous decade saw four clubs top that list at one point or another. At home, Melbourne have won 75% of their games and their record at home against Brisbane is 68%. That’s before we even get into the stats about this year’s team, like they’re the first NRL team to get to 44 points without breaching the salary cap. Yet.
I could go on about the Storm and while I hold out a little hope for the Broncos, it’s going to be a Melbourne win.
I was right at least that my bracket was destroyed within fifteen minutes of the first game as the Roosters went to an early lead against the Broncos that they only briefly gave up. I finished the round one tip from four, meaning that the only thing I got right was that I got my bracket wrong.
Fortunately, a new week of finals brings new opportunities to get things wrong.
Penrith (13-11) @ Brisbane (16-8)
The Panthers rode Nathan Cleary like Hannibal crossing the Alps (sixteen of them riding one elephant somehow) through yet another game that somehow resulted in victory. I just looked up the team list to see if he had any teammates and the only name I recognised was Josh Mansour and that’s only because he looks like he should be robbing stagecoaches in 1890s Ballarat. Penrith did a good job of turning around the fixture that they lost only a week before, particularly having to come from behind in the last ten minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Panthers’ premiership chances have left.
Brisbane and Sydney played their usual roles on the stage of rugby league, the Broncos as Brisbane and the Roosters playing the role of Sydney. It was practically a spec script: the Broncos went behind early, the Roosters lifted their foot off the pedal too early and Brisbane stormed back to take an unlikely lead with ten minutes to go, capitalising on the unlikeliest of Roosters’ errors. Painfully weak Broncos defence saw the Roosters’ superstar-in-the-making Latrell Mitchell get through for the game winning try. It was a fun time while it lasted, even if it was only five minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Broncos’ premiership chances have left.
I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Panthers win it, just because Brisbane haven’t been that reliable, but I think that the Broncos are really itching to cop a hammering from the Storm.
The Melbourne Storm were founded in 1998, in the immediate aftermath of the Super League-ARL dispute. Getting a team in Melbourne was a priority for Newscorp in order to expand the footprint of the game.
Early financial concessions meant that the Storm won their first premiership in only their second season in 1999. Thereafter, more sustained success arrived, with three minor premierships in a row from 2006 to 2008, four grand finals in a row from 2006 to 2009 and two premierships in 2007 and 2009. Melbourne, and rivals Manly, were the most dominant teams of this period. It all came apart in 2010 when massive salary cap rorts were uncovered. The Storm were stripped of the minor and major premierships from the 2006 to 2009 period and lost all their competition points in 2010, ensuring the club’s only wooden spoon.
The Storm bounced back quickly, winning a legitimate minor premiership in 2011 and a premiership in 2012. Since then, they’ve kept winning with two more minor premierships in 2016 and 2017. There’s not a lot of superlatives left to describe the Storm – even their cheating was monumental and they’ve had more NRL titles stripped than most clubs have won – and the 2017 team could make an excellent case for being the best vintage produced in the last twenty years.
Founded in 1908 as Eastern Suburbs, the Sydney Roosters are one of rugby league’s longest standing clubs. Playing out of Allianz Stadium, the Roosters (or Easts or City or Tricolours or Chooks) are one of the NRL’s success stories, having won thirteen premierships and nineteen minor premierships in their long history.
More recently, Easts have been one of the most successful of the Sydney based clubs, winning three minor premierships in a row from 2013 through 2015, including a premiership in 2013, and were a powerhouse in the early 2000s, winning the premiership in 2002. The club has attracted a large number of stars over the years, including Brad Fittler, Adrian Lam, Arthur Beetson, Ron Coote, Anthony Minichello, Craig Fitzgibbon, the original immortal Dally Messenger and some gronks like Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney.
Sydney maintain a close rivalry with Souths that is the subject of the Ron Coote Cup.